Expressions of Classical Horsemanship, Part 1: Riding

Many art forms have different expressions. In classical music, there are different styles and special names for the group sizes and makeup. The same goes for ballet and other arts, including classical horsemanship. Like classical music and ballet, these expressions work with each other, which makes for a deep experience when practicing the art. Some artists excel at one form over another; some musicians excel in one style of music but not another. Likewise in the riding art, different riders can excel in one of the specialties, even if they are not as gifted at another. There are several basic expressions: general riding, work in-hand, the airs above the ground, master at arms/mounted combat, obstacles, and a few miscellaneous pieces.

General Riding

Solo riding

This is the most common form of dressage and what you’ll see most of the time in competition. In this expression, a single horse and rider pair display a series of movements. At the old schools of Europe, such as the Spanish Riding School, the solo rider performs on the single curb bit with the reins in one hand. The rider then holds the whip up but does not use it. This is the ultimate display of control and training for the solo ridden work.

Pas de Deux/Pas de Trois

In the pas de deux, two horse and rider pairs perform the movements in harmony with each other. The movements are similar to the solo riding work, but the two pairs have to coordinate with each other. Because of this coordination, it can be more difficult than the solo work. It tests the riders’ ability to control their horses’ speed and precision, which makes an excellent preparation for mounted combat. The pas de trois is a similar expression but with three riders. This is much more rarely seen, as it is tricky to execute and can be awkward. However, when it is well-executed, it is lovely to watch.


The quadrille is a choreographed group of multiples of 4 or 6 riders that all work together. This is especially complicated, as all the riders have to keep even spacing and alignment with each other. Quadrilles are usually simpler than what the horse and rider can execute alone due to this added difficulty. In a well-executed quadrille, the group functions as a unit, making a beautiful, coordinated ballet of horses and riders.

Each of these expressions has its own challenges for riders to overcome. Some riders are a little shy for the solo riding but are excellent in pas de deux, others struggle with the coordination of riding in a group and shine as soloists. Some horses as well prefer the company of riding in a group while others prefer to work alone. Riders can execute each of these expressions at all levels, though they are of course more brilliant at the higher levels.

Come see some of these different expressions at our performances! We are working to schedule a performance for December, so keep an eye out on our Facebook and on the website!